From Uganda to Andover, An Extraordinary Journey

The story of how Phillips Academy’s new organist Patrick Kabanda came to America from Uganda is straight out of a Hollywood movie. At age 17, Mr. Kabanda worked at the Sheraton Hotel in the Ugandan capital of Kampala as a cocktail pianist. One night, a group of American businessmen heard Mr. Kabanda play. He played everything from jazz to classical to pop. One of the American businessman was so intrigued by his playing that he asked Mr. Kabanda where he had learned an American pop song. Mr. Kabanda answered that he had heard it on the radio, and that he was playing it back by ear. The businessman was so impressed that he wrote to Brevard College in North Carolina detailing Mr. Kabanda’s talent. Brevard sent Mr. Kabanda an application for admission, and in 1996, at age 21, Mr. Kabanda journeyed to the United States on a scholarship to study at Brevard. Mr. Kabanda’s interest in the organ dates back to his days as a choir boy at the Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala. “[The organ] is the king of instruments,” he said. “It’s very powerful, and it has this great range of many interesting sounds.” He continued, “It can be very quiet, and very loud; it has many colors, it’s like being in charge of the orchestra.” Mr. Kabanda received no formal education in music as a child. He said, “There were wars in Uganda, so it was very difficult to learn.” He continued that “I did it all through the church course in the cathedral. I always wanted to play seriously, but not many people could understand that.” Mr. Kabanda took full advantage of his opportunity to study in America. After two years at Brevard he transferred to The Julliard School in New York, where he earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music. He graduated in 2003 and received the William Schuman Prize for outstanding achievement and leadership in music. Besides composing and playing the organ and the piano, Mr. Kabanda likes to play soccer, mountain bike, and travel. “One of my professors stressed travel, travel, travel,” Mr. Kabanda said. “That’s how you learn about different people, the world, and stereotypes.” Receiving a grant from Julliard, Mr. Kabanda created a cross-cultural musical exchange program in the summer of 2000. Through his exchange, he conducted Western music workshops in East Africa and then brought African instruments to schools in New York City. Mr. Kabanda first heard about Phillips Academy while working in Europe. A professor at Harvard University whom which Mr. Kabanda was working was contacted by one of her former students, the Chair of the Music Department Elizabeth Aureden to find an organist for the school. Mr. Kabanda was offered the position at Andover and he gave up his job as Assistant Organist at Trinity Church on Wall Street to accept it. He said, “I didn’t know what Phillips Academy was so I went and typed in and nothing came up! At first I thought what school doesn’t even have website that works? Then I found [the site] and I was amazed [at] what this school has to offer. A beautiful campus, chapel…I was just thinking what a great opportunity.” Mr. Kabanda plans to apply what he learns from his experience at Phillips Academy towards achieving his dream, to create a performing arts center in Uganda that would infuse music in Ugandan education. The center would also facilitate cultural exchange, allowing Americans to go there and study African music and dance. He said, “Music is an international language; there are many instances when it connects us.” Mr. Kabanda said, “In this country there are so many great schools, and that competition is great because everyone has to maintain a high standard. I have a chance to use my talent in that direction… It’s a very big dream and I don’t expect to start tomorrow, but it’s my goal to one day at least see it happening.” At Andover, Mr. Kabanda plays the organ in the Chapel during ASM and Sunday services, directs the Handbell Choir, accompanies Chorus, teaches private lessons, and is a house counselor in Taylor Hall. He would like to give a recital at Andover and engage more people in music at the Chapel. He also hopes to adjust to his role as a house counselor. He said, “You know, it’s strange, when I was at Brevard I was a peer advisor in a dorm that was also called Taylor Hall! But I was more like a prefect… I have so much to learn about house counseling. I think, though, that I will learn by doing.” And learning by doing, as Mr. Kabanda has demonstrated, is certainly not a bad way to learn.